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Смерть на Ниле / Death on the Nile

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Смерть на Ниле / Death on the Nile
Czcionka:Mniejsze АаWiększe Aa

Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile

Copyright © 1937 Agatha Christie

© Издание на русском языке, оформление. ООО «Издательство «Эксмо», 2021

Agatha Christie
Death on the Nile

To SYBIL BURNETT

who also loves wandering about the world


Part one
England

Chapter 1

‘Linnet Ridgeway!’

‘That’s Her!’ said Mr Burnaby, the landlord of the Three Crowns. He nudged his companion. The two men stared with round bucolic eyes and slightly open mouths. A big scarlet Rolls-Royce had just stopped in front of the local post office. A girl jumped out, a girl without a hat and wearing a frock that looked (but only looked) simple. A girl with golden hair and straight autocratic features – a girl with a lovely shape – a girl such as was seldom seen in Malton-under-Wode.

With a quick imperative step she passed into the post office.

‘That’s her!’ said Mr Burnaby again. And he went on in a low awed voice: ‘Millions she’s got… Going to spend thousands on the place. Swimming-pools there’s going to be, and Italian gardens and a ballroom and half of the house pulled down and rebuilt…’

‘She’ll bring money into the town,’ said his friend. He was a lean, seedy-looking man. His tone was envious and grudging.

Mr Burnaby agreed.

‘Yes, it’s a great thing for Malton-under-Wode. A great thing it is.’ Mr Burnaby was complacent about it. ‘Wake us all up proper,’ he added.

‘Bit of difference from Sir George,’ said the other.

‘Ah, it was the ’orses did for him,’ said Mr Burnaby indulgently. ‘Never ’ad no luck.’

‘What did he get for the place?’

‘A cool sixty thousand, so I’ve heard.’

The lean man whistled.

Mr Burnaby went on triumphantly:

‘And they say she’ll have spent another sixty thousand before she’s finished!’

‘Wicked!’ said the lean man. ‘Where’d she get all that money from?’

‘America, so I’ve heard. Her mother was the only daughter of one of those millionaire blokes. Quite like the pictures, isn’t it?’

The girl came out of the post office and climbed into the car. As she drove off, the lean man followed her with his eyes.

He muttered:

‘It seems all wrong to me – her looking like that. Money and looks – it’s too much! If a girl’s as rich as that she’s no right to be a good-looker as well. And she is a good-looker… Got everything, that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…’

Chapter 2

Extract from the social column of the Daily Blague.

Among those supping at Chez Ma Tante I noticed beautiful Linnet Ridgeway. She was with the Hon. Joanna Southwood, Lord Windlesham and Mr Toby Bryce. Miss Ridgeway, as everyone knows, is the daughter of Melhuish Ridgeway who married Anna Hartz. She inherits from her grandfather, Leopold Hartz, an immense fortune. The lovely Linnet is the sensation of the moment and it is rumoured that an engagement may be announced shortly. Certainly Lord Windlesham seemed very épris!

Chapter 3

The Hon. Joanna Southwood said:

‘Darling, I think it’s going to be all perfectly marvellous!

She was sitting in Linnet Ridgeway’s bedroom at Wode Hall. From the window the eye passed over the gardens to open country with blue shadows of woodlands.

‘It ’s rather perfect, isn’t it?’ said Linnet.

She leaned her arms on the window sill. Her face was eager, alive, dynamic. Beside her, Joanna Southwood seemed, somehow, a little dim – a tall thin young woman of twenty-seven, with a long clever face and freakishly plucked eyebrows.

‘And you’ve done so much in the time! Did you have lots of architects and things?’

‘Three.’

‘What are architects like? I don’t think I’ve ever seen any.’

‘They were all right. I found them rather unpractical sometimes.’

‘Darling, you soon put that right! You are the most practical creature!’ Joanna picked up a string of pearls from the dressing table. ‘I suppose these are real, aren’t they, Linnet?’

‘Of course.’

‘I know it’s “of course” to you, my sweet, but it wouldn’t be to most people. Heavily cultured or even Woolworth! Darling, they really are incredible, so exquisitely matched. They must be worth the most fabulous sums!’

‘Rather vulgar, you think?’

‘No, not at all – just pure beauty. What are they worth?’

‘About fifty thousand.’

‘What a lovely lot of money! Aren’t you afraid of having them stolen?’

‘No, I always wear them – and anyway they’re insured.’

‘Let me wear them till dinnertime, will you, darling? It would give me such a thrill.’

Linnet laughed.

‘Of course, if you like.’

‘You know, Linnet, I really do envy you. You’ve simply got everything. Here you are at twenty, your own mistress, with any amount of money, looks, superb health. You’ve even got brains! When are you twenty-one?’

‘Next June. I shall have a grand coming-of-age party in London.’

‘And then are you going to marry Charles Windlesham? All the dreadful little gossip writers are getting so excited about it. And he really is frightfully devoted.’

Linnet shrugged her shoulders.

‘I don’t know. I don’t really want to marry anyone yet.’

‘Darling, how right you are! It’s never quite the same afterwards, is it?’

The telephone shrilled and Linnet went to it.

‘Yes? Yes?’

The butler’s voice answered her.

‘Miss de Bellefort is on the line. Shall I put her through?’

‘Bellefort? Oh, of course, yes, put her through.’

A click and a voice, an eager, soft, slightly breathless voice.

‘Hullo, is that Miss Ridgeway? Linnet!

Jackie darling! I haven’t heard anything of you for ages and ages!

‘I know. It’s awful. Linnet, I want to see you terribly.’

‘Darling, can’t you come down here? My new toy. I’d love to show it to you.’

‘That’s just what I want to do.’

‘Well, jump into a train or a car.’

‘Right, I will. A frightfully dilapidated two-seater. I bought it for fifteen pounds, and some days it goes beautifully. But it has moods. If I haven’t arrived by tea-time you’ll know it’s had a mood. So long, my sweet.’

Linnet replaced the receiver. She crossed back to Joanna.

‘That’s my oldest friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort. We were together at a convent in Paris. She’s had the most terribly bad luck. Her father was a French Count, her mother was American – a Southerner. The father went off with some woman, and her mother lost all her money in the Wall Street crash. Jackie was left absolutely broke. I don’t know how she’s managed to get along the last two years.’

Joanna was polishing her deep blood-coloured nails with her friend’s nail pad. She leant back with her head on one side scrutinizing the effect.

‘Darling,’ she drawled, ‘won’t that be rather tiresome? If any misfortunes happen to my friends I always drop them at once! It sounds heartless, but it saves such a lot of trouble later! They always want to borrow money off you, or else they start a dressmaking business and you have to get the most terrible clothes from them. Or they paint lampshades, or do batik scarves.’

‘So, if I lost all my money, you’d drop me tomorrow?’

‘Yes, darling, I would. You can’t say I’m not honest about it! I only like successful people. And you’ll find that’s true of nearly everybody – only most people won’t admit it. They just say that really they “can’t put up with Mary or Emily or Pamela any more! Her troubles have made her so bitter and peculiar, poor dear!” ’

‘How beastly you are, Joanna!’

‘I’m only on the make, like everyone else.’

I’m not on the make!’

‘For obvious reasons! You don’t have to be sordid when good-looking, middle-aged American trustees pay you over a vast allowance every quarter.’

‘And you’re wrong about Jacqueline,’ said Linnet. ‘She’s not a sponge. I’ve wanted to help her, but she won’t let me. She’s as proud as the devil.’

‘What’s she in such a hurry to see you for? I’ll bet she wants something! You just wait and see.’

‘She sounded excited about something,’ admitted Linnet. ‘Jackie always did get frightfully worked up over things. She once stuck a penknife into someone!’

‘Darling, how thrilling!’

‘A boy who was teasing a dog. Jackie tried to get him to stop. He wouldn’t. She pulled him and shook him but he was much emphasiser than she was, and at last she whipped out a penknife and plunged it right into him. There was the most awful row!’

‘I should think so. It sounds most uncomfortable!’

Linnet’s maid entered the room. With a murmured word of apology, she took down a dress from the wardrobe and went out of the room with it.

‘What’s the matter with Marie?’ asked Joanna. ‘She’s been crying.’

‘Poor thing! You know I told you she wanted to marry a man who has a job in Egypt. She didn’t know much about him, so I thought I’d better make sure he was all right. It turned out that he had a wife already – and three children.’

‘What a lot of enemies you must make, Linnet.’

‘Enemies?’ Linnet looked surprised.

Joanna nodded and helped herself to a cigarette.

‘Enemies, my sweet. You’re so devastatingly efficient. And you’re so frightfully good at doing the right thing.’

Linnet laughed.

‘Why, I haven’t got an enemy in the world.’

Chapter 4

Lord Windlesham sat under the cedar tree. His eyes rested on the graceful proportions of Wode Hall. There was nothing to mar its old-world beauty; the new buildings and additions were out of sight round the corner. It was a fair and peaceful sight bathed in the autumn sunshine. Nevertheless, as he gazed, it was no longer Wode Hall that Charles Windlesham saw. Instead, he seemed to see a more imposing Elizabethan mansion, a long sweep of park, a bleaker background… It was his own family seat, Charltonbury, and in the foreground stood a figure – a girl’s figure, with bright golden hair and an eager confident face… Linnet as mistress of Charltonbury!

 

He felt very hopeful. That refusal of hers had not been at all a definite refusal. It had been little more than a plea for time. Well, he could afford to wait a little…

How amazingly suitable the whole thing was. It was certainly advisable that he should marry money, but not such a matter of necessity that he could regard himself as forced to put his own feelings on one side. And he loved Linnet. He would have wanted to marry her even if she had been practically penniless, instead of one of the richest girls in England. Only, fortunately, she was one of the richest girls in England…

His mind played with attractive plans for the future. The Mastership of the Roxdale perhaps, the restoration of the west wing, no need to let the Scotch shooting…

Charles Windlesham dreamed in the sun.

Chapter 5

It was four o’clock when the dilapidated little two-seater stopped with a sound of crunching gravel. A girl got out of it – a small slender creature with a mop of dark hair. She ran up the steps and tugged at the bell.

A few minutes later she was being ushered into the long stately drawing room, and an ecclesiastical butler was saying with the proper mournful intonation:

‘Miss de Bellefort.’

‘Linnet!’

‘Jackie!’

Windlesham stood a little aside, watching sympathetically as this fiery little creature flung herself open-armed upon Linnet.

‘Lord Windlesham – Miss de Bellefort – my best friend.’

A pretty child, he thought – not really pretty but decidedly attractive with her dark curly hair and her enormous eyes. He murmured a few tactful nothings and then managed unobtrusively to leave the two friends together.

Jacqueline pounced – in a fashion that Linnet remembered as being characteristic of her.

‘Windlesham? Windlesham? That’s the man the papers always say you’re going to marry! Are you, Linnet? Are you?’

Linnet murmured:

‘Perhaps.’

‘Darling – I’m so glad! He looks nice.’

‘Oh, don’t make up your mind about it – I haven’t made up my own mind yet.’

‘Of course not! Queens always proceed with due deliberation to the choosing of a consort!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, Jackie.’

‘But you are a queen, Linnet! You always were. Sa Majesté, la reine Linette. Linette la blonde! And I–I’m the Queen’s confidante! The trusted Maid of Honour.’

‘What nonsense you talk, Jackie darling! Where have you been all this time? You just disappear. And you never write.’

‘I hate writing letters. Where have I been? Oh, about three parts submerged, darling. In JOBS, you know. Grim jobs with grim women!’

‘Darling, I wish you’d-’

‘Take the Queen’s bounty? Well, frankly, darling, that’s what I’m here for. No, not to borrow money. It’s not got to that yet! But I’ve come to ask a great big important favour!’

‘Go on.’

‘If you’re going to marry the Windlesham man, you’ll understand, perhaps.’

Linnet looked puzzled for a minute, then her face cleared.

‘Jackie, do you mean-?’

‘Yes, darling, I’m engaged!

‘So that’s it! I thought you were looking particularly alive somehow. You always do, of course, but even more than usual.’

‘That’s just what I feel like.’

‘Tell me all about him.’

‘His name’s Simon Doyle. He’s big and square and incredibly simple and boyish and utterly adorable! He’s poor – got no money. He’s what you call “county” all right – but very impoverished county – a younger son and all that. His people come from Devonshire. He loves the country and country things. And for the last five years he’s been in the City in a stuffy office. And now they’re cutting down and he’s out of a job. Linnet, I shall die if I can’t marry him! I shall die! I shall die! I shall die…!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, Jackie.’

‘I shall die, I tell you! I’m crazy about him. He’s crazy about me. We can’t live without each other.’

‘Darling, you have got it badly!’

‘I know. It’s awful, isn’t it? This love business gets hold of you and you can’t do anything about it.’

She paused for a minute. Her dark eyes dilated, looked suddenly tragic. She gave a little shiver.

‘It’s – even frightening sometimes! Simon and I were made for each other. I shall never care for anyone else. And you’ve got to help us, Linnet. I heard you’d bought this place and it put an idea into my head. Listen, you’ll have to have a land agent – perhaps two. I want you to give the job to Simon.’

‘Oh!’ Linnet was startled.

Jacqueline rushed on.

‘He’s got all that sort of thing at his fingertips. He knows all about estates – was brought up on one. And he’s got his business training too. Oh, Linnet, you will give him a job, won’t you, for love of me? If he doesn’t make good, sack him. But he will. And we can live in a little house and I shall see lots of you and everything in the garden will be too, too divine.’ She got up. ‘Say you will, Linnet. Say you will. Beautiful Linnet! Tall golden Linnet! My own very special Linnet! Say you will!’

‘Jackie-’

‘You will?’

Linnet burst out laughing.

‘Ridiculous Jackie! Bring along your young man and let me have a look at him and we’ll talk it over.’

Jackie darted at her, kissing her exuberantly.

Darling Linnet – you’re a real friend! I knew you were. You wouldn’t let me down – ever. You’re just the loveliest thing in the world. Goodbye.’

‘But, Jackie, you’re staying.’

‘Me? No, I’m not. I’m going back to London and tomorrow I’ll come back and bring Simon and we’ll settle it all up. You’ll adore him. He really is a pet.’

‘But can’t you wait and just have tea?’

‘No, I can’t wait, Linnet. I’m too excited. I must get back and tell Simon. I know I’m mad, darling, but I can’t help it. Marriage will cure me, I expect. It always seems to have a very sobering effect on people.’ She turned at the door, stood a moment, then rushed back for a last quick birdlike embrace. ‘Dear Linnet – there’s no one like you.’

Chapter 6

M. Gaston Blondin, the proprietor of that modish little restaurant Chez Ma Tante, was not a man who delighted to honour many of his clientele. The rich, the beautiful, the notorious and the well-born might wait in vain to be singled out and paid special attention. Only in the rarest cases did M. Blondin, with gracious condescension, greet a guest, accompany him to a privileged table, and exchange with him suitable and apposite remarks.

On this particular night, M. Blondin had exercised his royal prerogative three times – once for a Duchess, once for a famous racing peer, and once for a little man of comical appearance with immense black moustaches and who, a casual onlooker would have thought, could bestow no favour on Chez Ma Tante by his presence there.

M. Blondin, however, was positively fulsome in his attentions. Though clients had been told for the last half hour that a table was not to be had, one now mysteriously appeared, placed in a most favourable position. M. Blondin conducted the client to it with every appearance of empressement.

‘But naturally, for you there is always a table, Monsieur Poirot! How I wish that you would honour us oftener!’

Hercule Poirot smiled, remembering that past incident wherein a dead body, a waiter, M. Blondin, and a very lovely lady had played a part.

‘You are too amiable, Monsieur Blondin,’ he said.

‘And you are alone, Monsieur Poirot?’

‘Yes, I am alone.’

‘Oh, well, Jules here will compose for you a little meal that will be a poem – positively a poem! Women, however charming, have this disadvantage: they distract the mind from food! You will enjoy your dinner, Monsieur Poirot, I promise you that. Now as to wine-’

A technical conversation ensued, Jules, the maître d’hotel, assisting.

Before departing, M. Blondin lingered a moment, lowering his voice confidentially.

‘You have grave affairs on hand?’

Poirot shook his head.

‘I am, alas, a man of leisure,’ he said softly. ‘I have made the economies in my time and I have now the means to enjoy the life of idleness.’

‘I envy you.’

‘No, no, you would be unwise to do so. I can assure you, it is not so gay as it sounds.’ He sighed. ‘How true is the saying that man was forced to invent work in order to escape the strain of having to think.’

M. Blondin threw up his hands.

‘But there is so much! There is travel!’

‘Yes, there is travel. Already I have done not so badly. This winter I shall visit Egypt, I think. The climate, they say, is superb! One will escape from the fogs, the greyness, the monotony of the constantly falling rain.’

‘Ah! Egypt,’ breathed M. Blondin.

‘One can even voyage there now, I believe, by train, escaping all sea travel except the Channel.’

‘Ah, the sea, it does not agree with you?’

Hercule Poirot shook his head and shuddered slightly.

‘I, too,’ said M. Blondin with sympathy. ‘Curious the effect it has upon the stomach.’

‘But only upon certain stomachs! There are people on whom the motion makes no impression whatever. They actually enjoy it!’

‘An unfairness of the good God,’ said M. Blondin. He shook his head sadly, and, brooding on the impious thought, withdrew.

Smooth-footed, deft-handed waiters ministered to the table. Toast Melba, butter, an ice pail, all the adjuncts to a meal of quality.

The orchestra broke into an ecstasy of strange discordant noises. London danced.

Hercule Poirot looked on, registered impressions in his neat orderly mind.

How bored and weary most of the faces were! Some of those stout men, however, were enjoying themselves… whereas a patient endurance seemed to be the sentiment exhibited on their partners’ faces. The fat woman in purple was looking radiant… Undoubtedly the fat had certain compensations in life… a zest – a gusto – denied to those of more fashionable contours.

A good sprinkling of young people – some vacant-looking – some bored – some definitely unhappy. How absurd to call youth the time of happiness – youth, the time of greatest vulnerability!

His glance softened as it rested on one particular couple. A well-matched pair – tall broad-shouldered man, slender delicate girl. Two bodies that moved in a perfect rhythm of happiness. Happiness in the place, the hour, and in each other.

The dance stopped abruptly. Hands clapped and it started again. After a second encore the couple returned to their table close by Poirot. The girl was flushed, laughing. As she sat, he could study her face as it was lifted laughing to her companion.

There was something else beside laughter in her eyes. Hercule Poirot shook his head doubtfully.

‘She cares too much, that little one,’ he said to himself. ‘It is not safe. No, it is not safe.’

And then a word caught his ear. Egypt.

Their voices came to him clearly – the girl’s young, fresh, arrogant, with just a trace of soft-sounding for-eign Rs, and the man’s pleasant, low-toned, well-bred English.

‘I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched, Simon. I tell you Linnet won’t let us down!’

I might let her down.’

‘Nonsense – it’s just the right job for you.’

‘As a matter of fact I think it is… I haven’t really any doubts as to my capability. And I mean to make good – for your sake!’

The girl laughed softly, a laugh of pure happiness.

‘We’ll wait three months – to make sure you don’t get the sack – and then-’

‘And then I’ll endow thee with my worldly goods – that’s the hang of it, isn’t it?’

‘And, as I say, we’ll go to Egypt for our honeymoon. Damn the expense! I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt all my life. The Nile and the Pyramids and the sand…’

He said, his voice slightly indistinct:

‘We’ll see it together, Jackie… together. Won’t it be marvellous?’

‘I wonder. Will it be as marvellous to you as it is to me? Do you really care – as much as I do?’

 

Her voice was suddenly sharp – her eyes dilated – almost with fear.

The man’s answer came with an equal sharpness:

‘Don’t be absurd, Jackie.’

But the girl repeated: ‘I wonder…’ Then she shrugged her shoulders: ‘Let’s dance.’

Hercule Poirot murmured to himself:

Une qui aime et un qui se laisse aimer. Yes, I wonder too.’